Ashcroft is gone. (I love it that AP used the infamous “naked female statue” photo* to illustrate their story.) He is now free to pursue a career writing and singing schmaltzy, cliched religious ballads on the 700 Club. Somehow, it’s small comfort; we have long imagined that there could be no one worse than Ashcroft in that office, but I trust that Bush will find someone worse. (*Update: shoot! They changed it.)

I’m staying late at the office in order to work on some SAS code that I don’t want to stick my successor with, so I really shouldn’t dawdle here, but in the interest of ethnography, I want to share some things being said on “the other side.”

First, a friend in PA spotted the following letter to the editor from the 11/8 edition of her local paper, the Allentown “Morning Call”:

“Jesus Speaks Through the Republicans

I hope the election of George W. Bush is seen as a wake-up call to all the liberal Democrats who oppose God’s will.

It is His doing that George W. Bush is still our president. Millions of born-again Christians helped win this election through our prayers and votes. Jesus speaks through the Republicans.

The Democrats will not be able to win elections until they renounce their sinful ways and stop encouraging abortions, gayness, and trying to take away our guns.

Earl Balboa

Washington Township”

I wrote to her and said “maybe it’s a joke?!”, but she says there’ve been more in that vein. And then I read this Deborah Caldwell piece on Beliefnet:

On the day after President Bush was re-elected, he gave much of the credit to his political adviser, Karl Rove, whom he called “the architect” of his campaign. But in evangelical churches, on Christian radio, and in voter precincts dominated by conservative Christians, the credit is going instead to someone a whole lot more powerful: God.

The Almighty intervened in the U.S. election, these evangelicals believe, to allow Bush to remain president. They say God has “blessed” America with Bush–and had Sen. John Kerry been elected, God would have “cursed” the U.S. By allowing Bush to be re-elected, God has given America “more time” to stop its slide into evil…

There follow many, many paragraphs quoting various evangelicals espousing this theory.

Well, Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” hasn’t been “forwarded” a zillion times this week for nuthin’:

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

There’s also this gem — Mike Thompson’s “satiric… (but) nevertheless serious” (how’s that for RNC-like editing?) proposal in Human Events that Blue states be expelled from the Union, leaving what sounds decidely like an Arian Nation:

BUSH USA is predominantly white; devoutly Christian (mostly Protestant); openly, vigorously heterosexual; an open land of single-family homes and ranches; economically sound (except for a few farms), but not drunk with cyberworld business development, and mainly English-speaking, with a predilection for respectfully uttering “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir.”

GORE/KERRY USA is ethnically diverse; multi-religious, irreligious or nastily antireligious; more sexually liberated (if not in actual practice, certainly in attitude); awash with condo canyons and other high-end real estate bordered by sprawling, squalid public housing or neglected private homes, decidedly short of middle-class neighborhoods; both high tech and oddly primitive in its commerce; very artsy, and Babelesque, with abnormally loud speakers.

If you have the intestinal fortitude for it, read the whole thing (then purge your cookie folder and wash your hands), which was brought to our attention by Atrios.

And Matt Welch provides this stomach-turning round-up of popular conservative opinionators.

Now… If you can regard the opinions above with the kind of graciousness that Rabbi Michael Lerner urges here – where he also spells out what a “religious left” could do for the Democrats and what Dems need to do to get one – you are definitely a better person than I. But I’m trying to choke it down:

“Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil. It’s time they got over that elitist self-righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the Right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson–that our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the earth–a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the center of a revived Democratic Party.

Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to have to get over the false and demeaning perception that the Americans who voted for Bush could never be moved to care about the well-being of anyone but themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would make them into serious contenders.

The last time Democrats had real social power was when they linked their legislative agenda with a spiritual politics articulated by Martin Luther King. We cannot wait for the reappearance of that kind of charasmatic leader to begin the process of re-building a spiritual/religious Left.”

(There’s some good stuff on the righthand sidebar of that feature, too.)

I’m going to leave you with this pastoral letter from Rev. Peter Storey, a former Methodist Bishop in South Africa. I’m not sure of the source of its original publication; it seems to be circulating widely (thanks, JK). If anyone has more information about it, feel free to drop an email.

Dear Friends in the United States,

We have had notes from many of you, expressing your struggles with what happened on November 2.

Thank you for caring about the impact of the election on countries far away. We are sad for you and for the world. It is one thing to have leaders who walk mistaken and destructive roads, but when their actions find such support from ordinary people – neighbours and associates, friends and especially fellow church members – it is the more hurtful.

Don’t be too shocked, however. Every politician chooses between calling people to better things, or exploiting their fears and insecurities. The latter is as old as humankind, and – because of the nature of our fallenness – can all too often be the winning strategy. Thinking of the many such heartbreaks in our South African saga, Desmond Tutu once confided to me: “We should not be surprised because we know our theology, but we are allowed to be disappointed.”

Neither ought you to think that your participation was a waste. For forty years, in more than ten elections, a small number of white South Africans campaigned persistently against the apartheid that kept us in unfair privilege and we had our expectations dashed every time. In spite of this, our disenfranchised black compatriots always let us know that it counted for them. In the wider world, we are grateful for the many millions of Americans who chose responsibility and concern over fear and selfishness on November 2. Also, in our four decades of almost despair in South Africa, it was important to remember that while God prefers to work with enlightened, committed and compassionate servants of the people, God has extensive experience of advancing the Kingdom in spite of the arrogant and shallow people we often get instead.

What God does appear to find helpful in such circumstances, is a Church obedient enough to live and proclaim the alternative – the ‘otherness’ of the Gospel. This is where transformation can and must begin. The saddest thing about November 2 was that it was primarily declared Christians, manipulated by diverse fears about their own safety and others’ sexuality, who tipped the scales against change. In South Africa too, we were up against a “Christian” government, acting in the name of Christ, supported by significant numbers of members of our churches. It became crucial to expose the false gospels, of nationalism, militarism, racism, and security right within the church, ensuring that the voice of Jesus was heard declaring firmly: “Not in my name!” It meant intentionally re-evangelizing the church in Jesus’ way of enemy-love, of inclusion, of not fearing Caesar, of standing for the most marginalised. It took a long time, but it helped bring transformation.

Perhaps the message of this election is that this is truly a time for Gospel, and as so often in history, it is the church that must hear it first. The liberation Jesus speaks of in Luke 4 begins with evangelizing frightened and reactionary Christians out of their bondage. I’m not sure we can be the church unless we are learning to engage the world where decisions like that of November 2 happen, and I’m not sure that is possible unless every congregation becomes intentional about wrestling Biblically and theologically around the crucial areas where the church struggles most to be open to Jesus, and therefore has been least honest with the world.

They are: Wealth, Poverty and Good News to the Poor, Flag and Altar, Violence and Non-violence, and Inclusion and Exclusion. There is no reason why that should not begin now. I believe God would honour such wrestling with the gift of new vigour, clarity, courage and charity, so that the nation would begin to hear a different witness from the followers of Jesus.

It seems to me that this might be a good time to sit down and read Isaiah 40:27-31 and and 42:1-9, pray for the long view of God, and then get on with the tough business of witnessing!

With love and respect,

Peter Storey

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